Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gifted Child Series:Asynchronous Development and Grade Acceleration

This post is a contribution by guest blogger Chrystal Smith.
Check out her book store Barefoot Books for great children's books!
To read part 1 of the Gifted Child Series Visit Here.

These two topics sort of go hand in hand, but at the same time, they’re completely different. I almost don’t know where to begin, because the explanation becomes a circular one at times. Forgive me. This will be a long post, I’m sure.

Gifted children learn differently than most of the population. One of the best indicators of giftedness is a very obvious accelerated development in one area while the other areas are either normal or perhaps even a tiny bit behind normal. It’s not uncommon for a gifted child to be 3, 4, 5, or even 10 years ahead in just one subject like math or reading, while the others are on target, give or take a year. Why? Gifted children process information more quickly than average most of the time, they dive deeper than other children their age, and with each new thing they learn, they’re able to expand upon it. The abstract mind is one of the last parts of the brain to develop, but in gifted children, that development happens very early (especially in those whose strength lies in math).

For example, let’s say you have a gifted child who is an early reader. At the age of 12-24 months, the child already identifies all of the names and sounds of the alphabet without any “teaching” from the parents. By age 2-3 the child is putting sounds together for phonetically correct words and is identifying advertisements or logos with non-phonetic (or even misspelled) words. With or without a little guidance, the child has figured out common non-phonetic words by age 3-4. Is it any wonder that the child by age 5-6 will have an amazing vocabulary (reading books that have paragraphs and chapters rather than 3-4 letter words), a vivid imagination, and the understanding of many subjects his/her peers have never seen? The child will be reading books at the middle school level about horses or magicians, just for fun. He will have already devoured (and probably memorized) Dr. Seuss, which further developed rhyme, rhythmic oral reading, and speed of reading.

Amazing? Eh… maybe to some. But there’s a down side to this. A child who learns to read well and early using phonics rather than sight words will transition from oral reading to silent reading long before peers do. This is the reason many of them are overlooked, considered normal, or even considered lazy if placed in a public school classroom. Walking into a room full of 4-6 year olds during “quiet time”, you would expect to see all of them flipping the pages of a book. It’s hard to tell which ones are looking at the pictures and which ones are silently reading the words on the page. It’s even harder to tell which ones have moved past the words on the page and have started to develop their own ideas about where the story might lead them, why a character acts in a particular way, and what impact the story might have on real life. The really good readers will appear lazy or disobedient. Why read a book about Sam the Clam with only one sentence per page when you could daydream to make up a much more elaborate story on your own?

A child like this becomes bored very, very quickly in a classroom setting surrounded by age level peers. The child will feel like a superstar for a few weeks, but soon it becomes painful obvious to them that no effort is required. These children have two options most of the time: sit back and do nothing (grades start to fall completely, or grades stagnate because tests scores are high but regular work isn’t completed) or they become a disruption (a class clown or class bully). A very small number will actually request something more, but “more” isn’t the same thing as “better”. To a gifted child, “more” work is pushing a rock up a hill over and over only to watch it roll back down, while “better” work is designing a way to get the rock effortlessly up the hill in record time and have it stay in place.

When a 6-7-8 year old child is reading at a high school or adult level, simply pulling the child out once a week for a gifted enrichment day won’t cure the problems with grades or behavior, and it CERTAINLY won’t challenge the child. All children need to be challenged at a proper level, and by that, I mean that a gifted child who is being properly challenged will be asked to do much, much more than a delayed child who is being properly challenged.

The nice thing about homeschooling a gifted child is that you can tailor education to meet the needs of the child on a PER SUBJECT basis. A child who is reading at the middle or high school level at age 5 certainly won’t be able to write like a 12-16 year old. Muscle development and coordination simply aren’t there yet. I know countless mothers of gifted children who tell me they either did all assignments orally with their child, or they did all of the written assignments for their child in the early years (with the child dictating the answers). You know what? I’m one of those moms, so it was a huge relief to find SO many others like me!

Here’s where we get into grade acceleration – which could easily become a novel on its own, so I’ll try to be very brief here. There are many types of acceleration, some of which include:

(1) Homeschoolers who work on a year-round schedule cutting a few years off their child’s pre-college education whether the child is gifted or not. They’re simply making an efficient use of time without changing the level of challenge. This usually isn’t enough for a gifted child.
(2) Subject acceleration is the most common type of acceleration. Sometimes you’ll find it in public schools, but it’s much more common to find this type among homeschoolers. It’s quite normal to see a “2nd grader” doing 2nd grade work in most subjects, but be working from a 3rd grade math book or be asked to dive a little deeper into a reading assignment.
(3) Whole grade acceleration for a gifted child is the type of acceleration that usually results in rude comments from strangers, nagging comments from family, and jealous stares from peers (especially at competitions like spelling bees). Some children are simply not challenged and not happy unless they’re working several years ahead of schedule in all subjects. Some children are “globally gifted” (meaning they excel in more than just one area).

Do all children learn to walk on their 1st birthday? Do all children get their first tooth on the day they turn 6 months old? Of course not! Every child is different. Here’s another thing for you to ponder:

• If a 4 year old weighs 55 lbs and runs like the wind, he’s destined to be a football player.
• If a 4 year old plays the harp like an angel, he’s destined to be a musician.
• If a 4 year old can read Harry Potter cover to cover, discuss the plot twists with you, and argue about what might happen in the next volume, he must have been pushed by his parents to read early. He must be abused.


Stereotypes like this are what discourage many young, talented children – children who generations ago might have become Newton or Edison. (Most people don’t realize that Einstein didn’t even learn to talk until he was 3 years old.) Perhaps I’ll talk more about acceleration in another post, touching on stereotypes, socialization, etc. In the mean time, be flexible with your children. Let them explore to their hearts’ content, and make learning fun. If that means checking out a book from the young adult section of the library, buying a chemistry set, or learning another language, so be it.

Here are a couple of links you might find interesting as well:

A Nation Deceived - Volume 1 is an overview and is what most people will want. Volume 2 is the nitty gritty statistics behind volume 1 for those who need more detailed information to make an informed decision about their child.

Some of My Best Friends Are Books – Children who read at an accelerated level are often not ready for topics beyond their emotional maturity. This book gives parents many options for children who want to read at one level, but who are only able to process at their age level. It’s great for kids who read 2-3 years ahead of their peers, but it’s not going to help if you have a child reading many, many years beyond their peers.

1 comment:

Henry Cate said...

One of the things I like about homeschooling is we're able to develop a work ethic in our children.

Because most public schools move a class at the pace of the slower students, the smarter students can pick up the material with little effort. This can work fine for a couple years, but at some point they'll hit subject material which takes effort to master. Unfortunately too many smart students in public schools will not make the effort.

We have average smart children. It has been wonderful that we can keep moving them along at a pace that has them struggling some. This way when they hit hard topics they know how to buckle down and study, and are willing to do so.